Officers here believe that the problem of foreign fighters in Iraq has been vastly exaggerated -- that only a few hundred of 10,000 people detained in Iraq are foreigners. In Fallujah, a Darwinian dynamic may be at work -- survival of the most dangerous. That is, many insurgents fled before the Marines came, while the stupid ones stayed. The core of the insurgency -- former regime elements -- may include a few who want to return to the good old days of the seventh century, but many more who want to return to the good old days of power in Baghdad and shopping at Harrods in London.
Abizaid believes radical Islam today is roughly akin to Bolshevism in 1890 and fascism in 1920 -- there is time to stop its rise, but it must be stopped. Military success is certain. The enemy dare not mass. In Vietnam, American battalions suffered defeats. In Iraq, there has been no platoon-size defeat, and regular U.S. infantry units perform tasks that would have called for Delta Force skills a decade ago.
Abizaid laconically dismisses the idea that U.S. military energies are being depleted by ``nation-building'' duties: ``We're doing more fighting than fixing. The enemy gives us ample opportunity to fight.'' But while almost 3,000 Americans died on 9/11, there have been fewer than half that many military deaths in three years since the post-9/11 fighting began, in Afghanistan. And one reason why terrorists have killed no Americans in America since 9/11 is that, as one officer puts it, ``we're so much in their knickers abroad.''
Success in Iraq, people here believe, is contingent on three ifs: if Iraqi military and security forces can stay intact during contacts with the insurgents; if insurgents are killed in sufficient numbers to convince the Sunni political class that it must invest its hope in politics; if neighboring states, especially Syria, will cooperate in slowing the flow of money and other aid to the insurgency. If so, then America can -- this is the preferred verb -- ``stand up'' an Iraqi state and recede from a dominant role.
Abizaid, who speaks Arabic and has studied the region (and in the region, at the University of Jordan) believes that the Fallujah operation begins a 12-month period from which America will learn the parameters of the possible. When a visitor suggests that in two weeks we will know much, another officer tersely replies: ``Two days.''
That was said on Monday. So far, the performance of Iraq's apprentice military, now working with U.S. units denoted by the blue icons on that screen, permit tentative -- very tentative -- optimism.